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‘I Don’t Believe In Writer’s Block’: Scott Alexander Hess On Writing Fiction

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Raised in Affton, Scott Alexander Hess is now based in New York City.

Ten years ago, Scott Alexander Hess published his first novel — and in the decade since, he’s published six more, if you count his two new novellas just out from Rebel Satori Press. That’s on top of a busy schedule as a fiction writing instructor at Gotham Writers Workshop and work as a consultant helping others with novels of their own.

The key, he said, is to write. Even when it doesn’t seem very good. That’s one reason he says flatly, “I don’t believe in writer’s block.”

The St. Louis native explained his philosophy on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air.

“You have to be willing to be messy and to make mistakes and throw things away,” he said. “And all great writers — you know, Hemingway; I love Cormac McCarthy — they all say you have to write poorly to write well. So 95% of it is you sit down, and you write. And then some of it will be good, some of it won't. And it's OK. And then you keep going.”

He added, “If you're thinking about writing more than you're actually writing, then stop it. Just get it on the page.”

Hess Talks Writing, St. Louis
Listen to Scott Alexander Hess on St. Louis on the Air

Hess grew up the youngest of five children in Affton, where he dreamed of being a writer from an early age. He worked on the school newspaper at Affton High School and earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

But though Hess worked for a newspaper in Corning, New York, and scored a job at fashion publisher Fairchild Publications in New York City, it would be fiction, not facts, where he found his calling. He earned his master’s at the New School, and his first novel, “Diary of a Sex Addict,” was actually his master’s thesis.

The novel’s themes were nothing new to Hess, who recalled first reading “The Valley of the Dolls” and Harold Robbins as a kid in Catholic grade school and writing “spicy little books” in imitation of their racy style.

“I was writing from age 8,” he said. “I would have my mother type things up for me. She'd be like, ‘Oh, good Lord.’”

Hess’ new novellas, “The Root of Everything” and “Lightning,” are dedicated to his mother, Mary Alice Hess, who died in March. “The Root of Everything” draws heavily on family history, telling the story of a German man who (like Hess’ grandfather) left his homeland to come to St. Louis for the 1904 World’s Fair, married a local and never left.

“Their stories are all fictional, because I actually knew nothing about what happened once they got here,” Hess noted. “But I definitely drew on the history in the time period and then did a lot of research and looked at ‘Well, what was St. Louis like in 1904? And then what was it like in the ’50s?’ — learning all about different aspects of the city, especially in different time periods that I didn't know about.”

Like Hess’ previous books, each novella features a young gay man unabashedly enjoying sex with another man. He said he’s learned about writing good sex through trial and error.

“It's about emotion and passion and longing, desire, need, humanity,” he said. “I don't even call them sex scenes. I call them either lovemaking passion [or] sensuality. It's about a need one person has with another. People will write horrible sex scenes because they're thinking about the sex and — unless it's intense erotica, which is fine, too — it's about humanity.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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